A family’s love of trains | Persons, places and things


By Barb Arland-Fye

Our younger son Patrick celebrated his birthday last week at our house with pizza, pie and train videos. While I finished editing work before the big celebration, Steve, my husband, Colin, our older son, and Patrick were absorbed in the videos that other train enthusiasts (known as rail fans) posted to YouTube.

Colin called out to me, excitedly, from the family room: “Mom, you have to watch your husband on a train!” Perplexed by his statement, I got up from my desk to join my family to see the source of Colin’s excitement. I stopped in my tracks, literally.


On the TV monitor, I saw a youthful locomotive engineer sticking his head out of the cab of a locomotive and signaling to someone. That engineer was my husband Steve, seen in a video that some rail fan recorded in 1993. Steve, a rail fan himself, kept all of his time books, or records of his train trips. The video date corresponded with his time books.


Although our family had a video camera in those days, we never recorded Steve operating a locomotive. Sometimes, when they were little, I would take our sons on a trip to Clinton or another nearby town to search for Steve operating a train. Our memories of those occasional successes rushed back when we viewed an unexpected glimpse of our husband and father, recorded more than a year before Patrick’s birth.

Our Catholic faith undergirds our family; trains create a seam in the fabric of our family’s life. In the “Joy of Love” (Amoris Laetitia), Pope Francis says that within the family, a domestic church, “individuals enter upon an ecclesial experience of communion among persons, which reflects, through grace, the mystery of the Holy Trinity. ‘Here one learns endurance and the joy of work, fraternal love, generous — even repeated — forgiveness, and above all divine worship in prayer and the offering of one’s life”’ (No. 86).

Every family experiences joys and sorrows, challenges and successes, mercy and forgiveness. In our family, faith provides firm roots to grow in our relationship with God and one another. Trains transport my husband and sons to their happy place, and whatever makes them happy, makes momma happy!

Seeing Steve’s face and gestures in that video recording from 27 years ago fills my heart with tenderness for the journey we have traveled in the intervening years. Our older son’s autism and our younger son’s difficult childhood snagged the fabric of our family life, but the mending through God’s grace fills us with gratitude.

Trains have always been present. They travel past our home multiple times a day. However, Steve and our sons still anticipate trips to watch trains in other cities with railroad hubs, attend model railroad exhibits, view train videos and check out Steve’s model railroad layout in progress. A popular YouTube feature, “rail cams,” shows train operations in real time. Rail cams, along with his atlases and books, play a significant role in Colin’s ability to strive to cope with the COVID-19 pandemic.

Patrick recently moved into his own small home and asked his dad to assist him with constructing a model railroad module that he can enjoy. Although he has not said so, I know Steve feels uplifted by that request. We are companions on a journey of faith and one of our modes of transportation is a train.

(Contact Editor Barb Arland-Fye at arland-fye@davenportdiocese.org)

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